Doi Mae Salong (Santikhiri): Thailand’s Best-Kept Secret…

IMG_2407For most people, travel is a special activity that you do maybe once or twice a year, with elaborate preparations and financial considerations, nail-biting calculations and apprehensions of misappropriations. But most of all: it’s exciting! It’s fun! You’re enthusiastic! But for some others of us, who travel so much that it’s more ‘normal’ than ‘ab’, sometimes we just can’t get it up for the journey, especially if we’ve already ‘been there done that’ and there are no screaming kids to disappoint…

So I did something a week or two ago that I’ve never done before in forty some-odd (all together now: “some very odd”) years of travel—just canceled; called it off; yanked it; scrubbed; pulled the plug; I feel so liberated now that I don’t have to do all that travel—aaahhh!!! I can relax now. And that’s about the size of it. When you’re tired like the end of a trip, before the trip’s even started, then: do the math, take a bath, put the baby to sleep…

IMG_2412I guess the fix was in from the start, when the Chinese consulate at Chiang Mai asked for an itinerary, and I decided to switch my trip to Cambodia instead—not a good sign of dedication nor devotion to an itinerary, if I can’t even condescend to write it up. So I switched to my fall-back option: Cambodia-Kampuchea-Trashtown, you name it. If all else fails, then that’s where I go, where the language is imminently learnable—halfway there already—and the visas are cheap and infinitely extendable…

…unlike Thailand, where I am now, and where I’ve pretty much exhausted all my challenges, until I come back to study for my MA in the fall, those challenges personal, and professional, not legal, unless you count the increasing hassles of doing the visa dance, signing in and signing out, keeping current and staying ahead of the trend to keep the riff-raff out, ‘digital nomads’ included, and almost especially…

‘Digial nomads’, that’s the term for people like me, without real homes, living on the road, my friend, gonna’ keep us free and clean, dependent on the Net for constant connections, if not actual sustenance, i.e. online work, most of those nomads half my age, and nestled into places like Chiang Mai, Saigon, Medellin or Samui, anywhere the WiFi is good, the visas are cheap and the party goes nonstop, local talent always appreciated…

IMG_2398So I guess it’s just as well that the Cambodia trip is off, since there’s a drought underway, and the original idea was to get up to speed in Chinese language, anyway, not Khmer, which I’m much farther along in. There’s only one problem: I’m lying here twitching like a junkie without a fix, my only needle with a thread running through it, ready to patch up old clothes, recycling memories and practicing sustainability…

Mindfulness or Mindlessness: Travel is more than creative homelessness…

And it’s hot as hell, 37c/98.6f and counting, with no let-up in sight, at least not for another month or two, by which time I’ll be gone anyway. So sometimes the answer is under my big fat nose, Doi Mae Salong, half-day away from my current base in Chiang Rai, and three thousand feet up a hill, AND more Chinese than any place in Thailand, former redoubt of remnant renegade KMT Chinese, left over from the war with Communism…

Usually you have to find an ex-colonial ‘hill-station’ for relief from the SE Asian heat at this time of year, in places where the Brits and French formerly resided, and which are now more often than not full-flege tourist resorts, for backpackers, at least, if not the filthy rich, like Sapa in Vietnam, or Pyin U Lwin (Maymyo) in Myanmar (Burma)…

IMG_2395Well, Thailand never had a colonizer (just ask for whatever you need), but they DO have hill-tribes, and this is where they live—Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Yao and Hmong, the latter two from China, too, in addition to the KMT renegades. And there they are to this day, KMT soldiers, at least one of which wanted to tell me a story, but my level of Chinese language insufficient to get much more than that out of it…

But the Akha are the main minority group here, and their language more likely to be heard on the street than Chinese, it the secure province of only a dying generation, their offspring having firmly ‘become Thai’ in that way that is well-documented here and only here, in a way that Thailand, and only Thailand, can accomplish, the Siamicizing of Chinese people that has occurred for at least 700 years, and upon which the nation is based…

Unfortunately the town disappoints, a little bit, for reasons that I’m not sure of, perhaps because the temps aren’t so chilly, really, OR: it’s dead. It has everything a tourist town should have, except tourists, or travelers, or even backpackers, for lack of better options. Sapa in Vietnam, or even Pai, on the other side of Chiang Mai, but not much farther away, or much harder to get to, is crawling with them. Maybe Doi Mae Salong’s fortunes will improve along with those of Chiang Rai, it’s closest ‘big city’…

IMG_2400But the place is dead at this time of year, and according to my guesthouse owner it’s busiest in the fall season leading up to New Year. That seems odd, considering that this is by far the hottest season, and this is the best place to escape it, arguably, in all of Thailand. There’s only one explanation, that I can see…

This is also the burning season, when basically everybody is burning everything, especially fields, and woods to make new fields. It’s not pretty, but DMS is not alone with this problem, which inhabits most or all of the north, at this time of year. So, given Pai’s growing pains (read: police actions) in becoming northern Thailand’s backpacking center, is this not an opening for DMS? The infrastructure is there, even if the town itself is scattered over hill and dale, with limited area for a true ‘center’…

So if we could get the word out, then within a decade, if my math is correct, DMS could be the new Koh Tao to Pai’s Koh Pha Ngan and Chiang Mai’s Koh Samui, a little archipelago of hippiedom necklaced over the northern hills and dales, offering succor to the hill tribes and business opportunities to the Thais and Chinese, and no shortage of party favors to the disenfranchised, as the town quickly becomes unrecognizable. On second thought: maybe not; just forget I said anything. Don’t go, PLEASE!!!

Advertisements